Wednesday, March 05, 2008

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL

Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Justin Chadwick
Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Kristen Scott Thomas


Lady Elizabeth: Our daughters are being traded like cattle for the advancement of men.

Historically speaking, Anne Boleyn was the second wife of England’s King Henry VIII. She was instrumental in England’s political and religious upheaval that saw England ultimately break away from the Catholic Church. When Henry’s first wife was unable to produce a male heir, he began to look elsewhere. His advances toward Anne were not returned, as she did not want to chance pregnancy. Any child born before the King could annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon would be a bastard child and therefore not a potential heir to the throne. As if this weren’t enough drama for the Boleyn family, Anne’s sister, Mary, was also involved with the King and rumoured to have had a child he fathered prior to his involvement with Anne. Regardless of how sordid the whole affair might have been, it altered England’s history dramatically and Anne went on to become both a martyr and a feminist icon. You would think that a screenplay about both sisters’ involvement with the King by the Oscar nominated writer of THE QUEEN would be an impartial account of the period but instead, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is nothing but a sexist farce that reduces both the male and female players to tired platitudes before robbing the story of all its humanity.


Men crave power and status. Women crave powerful men that they can manipulate to do their bidding. Men will essentially do anything to get into the skirt of a woman they desire and will lose their minds and capacity for rational thinking if she denies him. Women will in turn step over anyone, including their own sister, in order to bag a supposedly good man. Not only are all of these statements borderline offensive but they are also inane. There is always so much more to it than simply that. These clichés are the stuff great teen movies are made of and perhaps it was unfair of me to expect more from a costume film than insipid, nonsensical melodrama. What most undermines first time feature film director Justin Chadwick’s work is that it is amateurish and not at all convincing. Anne and Mary Boleyn (Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson) are introduced as loving, caring sisters. They protect each other, respect each other and love each other. Why then would I believe that either would hurt the other so maliciously? I guess because they’re girls and that’s what girls do when there is a man involved, right? Sure to stereotype both sexes fairly, the men do not escape Chadwick’s narrow view of gender definition. Am I to seriously believe the King of England (Eric Bana) would risk his throne and country’s well being just because a girl he lusts over refuses his royal wanting?


As Anne, Portman is a natural for the period but as she gets caught up in her father’s plans to have her bed the King as a means to better position her family’s standing at court, the inherent intelligence she brings to most of her roles makes it seem entirely unnatural that she would be naïve enough to play along with Daddy’s game. Johansson has never looked more drab as she stands amidst an always-overcast English countryside, her long, golden locks lying limp on her shoulders, her eyebrows almost invisible against her pale face. Though she seems to be playing catch-up to Portman’s supposed ease with the material at first, it is her poise and restraint that make for a more believable and sympathetic Boleyn. While Portman certainly masters the pain, remorse and paranoid fear necessary to convey Anne’s arch, she is incapable of escaping the same trap the entire cast falls into. Perhaps from having seen too many period pieces prior, the ensemble acts as though the events taking place are not actually happening to them as characters. Instead, they come off as amateur theatre actors caught up in the lore that comes with corsets and faked British accents.


THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is not all that horrible. I too find myself getting lost in the barrage of bodices. Still, marrying off your children as commodities should not be taken lightly and the knowing twinkle in these girls’ eyes gives away their modern feminist thinking, making their wily behaviour seem all the more implausible. The only thing that makes this all worse is that all this trouble comes about to please the patriarch of the Boleyn family who is nothing more than a pathetic, insecure coward.

1 comment:

cinful-one said...

Very well said. I found this movie flat and uninspired, in the plot, the acting, and in the art direction. It really didn't do anything to make up for its cliches.